Bodleian Treasures: 24 Pairs

Tuesday 31 January 2017

When I visited Oxford last year, we managed to squeeze in the Botanic Gardens, the Museum of the History of Science, and the Museum of Natural History. They were all beautiful, but I knew I couldn't miss squeezing in a trip to the Bodleian Library, and the Bodleian Treasures exhibit in the Weston Library. This was a fairly fleeting visit as we had a lot to pack in to our two days, and there are twelve million items in the collection, so the exhibition 'Bodleian Treasures: 24 Pairs' was a perfect introduction to some of the star items they hold. Pairing together items whose connections might not be immediately obvious is a really nice way to get visitors to begin thinking creatively about the history of our written culture and the many connections which exist between the objects produced by it.

I loved all of the items, but I had a few favourites. It was amazing to see a section of Mary Shelley's notebooks, filled with her handwritten draft of Frankenstein; Shelley is one of my favourite authors and it's amazing to think of her writing away in Geneva in the early nineteenth century. Also on display are papyrus fragments of the work of another woman writer, Sappho, whose poetry was largely lost but was recovered in excavations of rubbish dumps at Oxyrhynchus (along with some of the most important Christian manuscripts ever discovered). Medieval illumination will always entrance me, and M.S. Bodl. 764 is a beautiful example of a 13th century bestiary, probably my favourite type of medieval text - a kind of religious version of a natural history textbook! I also really enjoyed the inclusion of various kinds of decorative bindings, from gilt gauffered book edges to the spectacular bible given to Queen Elizabeth I, covered in red velvet embroidered with gold and silver.

The current exhibition is on until the 19th February, and then it will be filled with new treasures from mid-March. If you're interested in looking at more of the amazing books, manuscripts and ephemera held at the Bodleian, a lot of their collection is digitised beautifully. I'd also highly recommend following @bodleianlibs on Twitter for book-related fun (for more on their great social media strategy, see this article by Adam Koszary!)

FIND 'BODLEIAN TREASURES: 24 PAIRS' AT: The Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG

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